Spokane, Washington, voters will decide this fall on two bond measures that will provide almost $600 million for local schools and libraries.
Voters will also be polled in November on their preferred location for a rebuilt athletic stadium, although a separate bond measure for that project has been tabled for now.
The decision by Spokane Public Schools and the Spokane City Council caps months of debate between the two agencies over partnering on bonds to improve schools, libraries and recreational facilities in the eastern Washington city of 212,052.
The school district is putting forward a $495.3 million bond program to build three new middle schools, replace or renovate three existing ones with modern buildings, and make safety and technology improvements district-wide.
The city is sponsoring a $77 million bond to build three new libraries and expand and renovate four others.
The two agencies will share uses, such as with the libraries, and the city will aid in providing property for some of the school projects.
The school board and city council both voted unanimously to place their respective bond measures on the November ballot at a special joint meeting Thursday.
The new middle schools will allow the school district to reduce class sizes in the elementary schools by switching from a kindergarten through sixth grade model to kindergarten through fifth grade, Superintendent Shelley Redinger said at the meeting. Sixth graders will be moved to middle school.
“This is a tremendous investment in our students and their learning environment,” Redinger said in a press release. “It directly supports the district’s strategic objectives of providing a safe, productive learning and working environment, and improving operational efficiency.”
Mayor David Condon said investments in schools benefit the city.
“The number one reason people live in the city of Spokane is Spokane Public Schools,” he said at the Thursday meeting.
City and school officials say they wanted to go forward with the two bond measures due a recent change where the state will assume some of the costs of elementary school education. That will result in a tax cut of $2.20 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2020 for Spokane property-owners, officials said.
The two bond measures will cost 98 cents per $1,000 of assessed value – still leaving a savings of $1.22 per $1,000 of assessed value, according to the district.
“Now seems like a right time because we can take advantage of the tax rate drop, leave some of that in taxpayers’ pockets and still invest in libraries, schools and recreation,” Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson said at the meeting.
Agreement between the council and school board was harder to find on the most controversial item: an athletic stadium that would host football, lacrosse and other sporting events.
School officials say an existing 30,000-seat stadium in northwest Spokane is in poor condition and needs to be replaced. The district has proposed downsizing it and building a new 5,000-seat facility at the existing site or downtown at a city park.
The proposed downtown site is near the Spokane Arena, which hosts hockey, baseball and other events, and the planned SportsPlex, which would feature an indoor track field and is being funded through bond financing by a separate agency. Supporters say it will create a sports hub downtown.
School officials said their bond will include financing for the new stadium whichever site is chosen.
Last week, the city council tabled a plan for a separate bond that would aid with the downtown stadium through the construction of a parking garage and also fund new recreational fields at the current stadium site.
City officials say the costs were not clearly outlined and they felt it would overshadow the library and school bonds.
But following the joint meeting with the school board the city council held a special meeting Monday and voted to place a non-binding advisory measure asking voters where they would like to see the stadium built.
Council members restated their opposition to contributing city funds but said it was appropriate to give voters a say in the matter.
“We’ve already said we’re not spending that money,” Council President Ben Stuckart said.